AZ-8: Rep. Lesko to Retire

Three-plus term Arizona US Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) announced yesterday that she will not seek re-election to her state’s 8th Congressional District next year.

The Congresswoman indicated that time away from her family, including her 94-year old mother, while expressing frustration saying, “it is hard to get anything done [in Congress],” led to the decision to bring her political career to a close.

Ms. Lesko first won election to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2008, before capturing a state Senate seat in 2014. After US Rep. Trent Franks (R) resigned from Congress, Ms. Lesko won the 2018 special election to become his successor. She was re-elected to a full term in the 2018 regular election and easily won two additional terms.

Rep. Lesko averaged 55.9% of the vote in her three contested congressional campaigns. The Congresswoman ran unopposed for re-election in 2022.

The Lesko retirement decision means that 18 seats are open for the next election, two of which will be decided in special elections on November 7th (RI-1) and November 21st (UT-2). We now see 12 Democratic open seats and six Republican. Only a half-dozen of the 18 departing members are retiring or have resigned. The other twelve are running for a different office: 11 for the US Senate, while Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) has declared for his state’s open Attorney General’s post.

Arizona will now host two of those 18 open House elections. In addition to the Lesko seat opening, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) announced his Senate candidacy back in late January.

While Rep. Gallego’s downtown Phoenix district will remain safely Democratic, the GOP should have little trouble holding Rep. Lesko’s CD, a seat fully contained within Maricopa County and anchored in Peoria, Sun City, and part of Glendale.

AZ-8 is reliably Republican. The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates the seat as R+22. Dave’s Redistricting App calculates a 57.3R – 40.8D partisan lean. The Daily Kos Elections site ranks the 8th as the 77th most vulnerable district in the current 221-member GOP Conference. Former President Donald Trump scored a 56.1 – 42.5% victory over President Biden here in 2020.

Rep. Lesko’s announcement came as a surprise, so no one on the Republican side had been contemplating a congressional run, though seven Democrats and an Independent had already announced. None of the current candidates, however, have held any elective office and are not viewed as major competition.

Arizona’s legislature is divided into legislative districts, entities that elect one state Senator and two Representatives. A total of eight legislative districts are contained within, at least partially, the 8th Congressional District meaning that eight state Senators and 16 Representatives share a portion of Rep. Lesko’s constituency. We will likely see more than one of those legislators enter the 2024 congressional contest.

There is a potential candidate who might fare best, however, since his local constituency is bigger than the congressional district. He is Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman (R), should he choose to run. His 4th Supervisorial district, which has 14% more registered voters than does the 8th CD, fully covers the congressional domain’s core population anchors.

In addition to Arizona being one of the key states in the presidential race and hosting the three-way hotly contested US Senate race, several of the state’s congressional races will also fall into the competition category’s top tier. Thus, Arizona is quickly becoming the 2024 election cycle’s “ground zero.”

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